Gerraint: The Holy Graal M3 Gerraint: Trouble in the Dock, part 1 of 2

The wind swept Gerraint’s long dark brown hair around his face and made him blink involuntarily to protect his deep blue eyes.  The ship coming into the dock promised news from across the channel.  He already heard from Rhiannon, the Lady of the Lake, that something was afoot, but the lady gave no more information than that.  Still, he would hear soon enough, and it had to be important since normally ships avoided crossing the channel in winter.  Enid touched his arm and turned his attention momentarily from the wind and the waves.

“You look troubled,” she said.  After thirty years of war and suddenly three years of utter peace, the idea that “something was afoot” could do that to a man.

“Now, why would I be troubled?” Gerraint asked and smiled.  He kissed Enid sweetly and squeezed three-year-old Guimier in the process.  She was in her mother’s arms where she could look over the railing and wave at the sailors and fishermen.

Enid lowered her eyes.  “Because you look like you did in the weeks before Badon.”  She blushed a little.  The battle of Badon, the day the earth shook and Lyoness sank into the sea, had turned Gerraint into a bundle of stress.  Three years of peace came of it, but so did Guimier.

“Oh.”  Enid let out a little moan and set down the squiggling girl.  “I’m forty-one, you know.  I am getting much too old for this.”

“Never.”  Gerraint smiled genuinely and took the absence of the child to slip his arm lovingly around his wife.  She sighed and rested in his shoulder and they watched the ship together while Gerraint turned again to his thoughts.

They had whipped the Saxons badly enough at Badon that Gerraint hoped the peace would last the rest of his lifetime.  Bedwyr would watch the Saxon Shore well enough to remind them that Britain was not to be trifled with.  Kai, Warden of the North Watch had the Scotts and remaining Picts merrily fighting each other.  Loth had the Norwegian Shore completely under his thumb, and those pesky Irish had been quiet since Tristam killed Marat, or really, since Arthur beat back the invasion of old king Rience, now gone to meet Saint Patrick’s maker.  Peace had come, and quiet, and though the young men complained that there were no adventures left in the world, Gerraint did his best to convince them that they were better off.  His own sons, Peter, James and John, all of nineteen, seventeen and fourteen, and all off as squires in various places, had nothing to complain about except their mother having a baby.  They were pleased to have a little sister at last.

Enid broke free to catch Guimier before she toddled right over the side.  Gerraint thought how he named his sons and insisted on those Christian names, but Enid named their daughter, Guimier, and the little girl already had her father wrapped around her little finger.  He caught her up from Enid’s arms and she giggled.

“Look,” Guimier said, and pointed as the ship came to a stop and men began to shove out the plank.

“Wave to cousin Gawain,” Gerraint said, and Guimier and Gerraint waved together like a couple of three year olds.

“My Lord!  Majesty!  Uncle!”  Gawain shouted and hardly waited for the gang plank as he sprang to the dock and began to run toward them.  Guimier went back to her mother who put her down and took her little hand.

“Gawain!”  Gerraint shouted back, and when they got close enough, they hugged.  “And how is the family?”  he asked, knowing that Gawain had been in Amorica since Hoel’s funeral and out of touch with his own kin.

“Um, well, I guess,” he said.  “But I have the most remarkable news.”

“Well, come up to the house and you can tell me all about it.”

“But sir.”  Gawain started, but Enid interrupted.

“Good to have you home.”

“Oh!”  Gawain realized he had been rude.  “My lady.”  He gave her a hug.  “And, say!  This is Guimier?  You were just a baby last time I saw you.  You’re all grown up now, little cousin.”  He knelt down and kissed Guimier on the head.  Guimier did not know what to make of him.  Like all little children, she looked up to her mother for guidance. Fortunately, Gerraint had already moved toward the horses and Gawain did not dawdle.  He stepped on Gerraint’s heals even as Enid lifted Guimier to set her in the wagon with her nurse.

Luckily, by plan, Uwaine was there with the horses.  He and Gawain were the same age, just about thirty-three, and they hugged and had a good deal of catching up to do.  Gerraint mounted.  His squire, Bedivere, his sister Cordella’s son from Lyoness mounted beside him, and they lead the procession home.

“But aren’t you curious as to Sir Gawain’s news?”  Bedivere asked.

“Yes, but not impatient.  There is nothing that cannot wait until I am comfortable, sitting in front of the fire, with a glass of ale in my hands,” Gerraint responded.

When the time came, Uwaine was the one who spilled the news.  “He heard from Meryddin.”  Uwaine said.  “It’s been three years and no one has seen or heard from the old man until now.  Can you imagine?”

Gerraint rubbed his chin.  He could imagine it all too well.  Rhiannon had promised to keep the old man away from this world until his days were done.  He remained a potential time bomb, and Gerraint could not imagine what set his voice free from the grasp of the goddess.  Whatever he said, it could not be for the best.

“We are to find the Cauldron of Life.”  Gawain explained his brief conversation with Meryddin.

“You are sure it was him?”  Enid asked the obvious question while Gerraint thought as hard and as fast as he could.

“Absolutely,” Gawain said.  “Without question.  He knew who I was and reminded me of things only he would know.  Plus, I recognized his voice and that bit of a stutter.  No question it was Meryddin.”

“The Graal,” Gerraint said at last and took everyone’s attention.  “That must be it.  After all these years, the Graal is to be found.”

“No, I don’t think so.”  Gawain looked uncertain as to what a Graal was.  “It was a cauldron of some kind.”

“A cauldron.  A cup.”  Gerraint spoke fast.  “Let me tell you the story of Joseph of Arimathea.  I am sure you have heard the story, only you have forgotten.”  Gerraint counted on the fact that Gawain, like most of the Round Table, was a fervent believer in the Christ.  Indeed, Arthur’s rule was that no one was admitted to the table or even to the room unless they first confessed their faith.  Most did so willingly, though Gerraint knew there were some who confessed only in order to not be left out in the cold. Where their faith really lay was perhaps a question.

Gerraint told his audience about the last supper, and it was a story that resonated in the young hearts in the room.  Then, after the supper, Joseph retrieved the cup, and through a long, arduous journey, came at last to Britain where he hid the cup from the pagans who would have destroyed it and the curiosity seekers who would have treated it badly and without due respect.  “Evidently, now that we have become a Christian nation, God, in his wisdom, has chosen these days for this great task, to unveil the secret place of the Graal and make it known to all the people.”

“The cup of the Lord,” Bedivere whispered, reluctant to speak of such a thing too loud.

“Yes.”  Gawain nodded slightly.  “That must be what he meant.”

“You can imagine the healing in that great cup, the cup of the Great Physician himself, whose body and blood we partake of every Lord’s day for both our healing and our salvation.”

“That must be it.”  Uwaine sounded more convinced.

“Yes, Uncle.  I believe you know.”  Gawain finally spoke with some confidence.  “I know that after Meryddin, you know more things about what is and what must be than any other man alive.  This is why I came first to you, and now you have made clear what was uncertain and confusing in my mind.”

“It was a very short conversation you had with Meryddin, was it not?”  Gerraint asked.

“Yes,” Gawain nodded slowly again.  “Yes, it was.”

“Well!”  Gerraint sounded as if that answered all objections.  “Obviously, he did not have time to explain it all.  But maybe he picked you because he knew you would come first to me.  I’ll say, the minute you started talking I knew exactly what it was you were talking about.  At long last, the journey of Joseph will have its conclusion.  The Graal, what a wonderful quest that will be, and God bless the man who finds it!”

“Yes.”  Gawain nodded vigorously with his friend, Uwaine.  “With your permission, I will leave on the evening tide for Caerleon.  Arthur must be told right away.”

“You are welcome to stay and rest and refresh yourself,” Gerraint said, and he saw the reluctance in Gawain’s eyes, and laughed.  “Oh, impetuous youth,” he said, though well aware that he was talking to a thirty-year-old and hardly a youth.  Still, at forty-six he was nearly old enough to be Gawain’s father, so youth was a relative term.  “By all means you may go.  Arthur must be told, only eat something now before you leave.  Enid has been cooking cakes all day in anticipation of your arrival.”

Gawain stopped and swallowed.  It was the first he thought of it.  “Yes, actually,” he said.  “How did you know I was even coming?”

Gerraint winked at him.  “Don’t worry about minor mysteries.  You have a Graal to find.  Believe me, there is mystery enough, and I would say adventure enough for a lifetime.”  He laid a hand on Gawain’s shoulder and led him to the table.  He felt rather hungry.

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MONDAY

Gerraint explains his suspicions to Enid before he travels to Arthur’s court where, with Arthur’s help, he has to keep people focused on the Graal and off the ancient treasures of the Celts.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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M3 Festuscato: Epilogue

When the time came, Festuscato borrowed Marguerite’s words.  He laid his hands on Mirowen’s head and said, “You have my permission and my blessing.”  In Mirowen’s case, she did not change, drastically.  She still looked elfish.  She still had the eldritch fire at her fingertips, and she could still draw her bow and arrows from nowhere and shoot with the best of them.  They both knew, however, from that day on she would age, not like her nature, but like a normal, mortal woman.

“I’m glad,” Beowulf said as he pushed her long black locks behind her little pointed ear.  “I think I like you this way best.

“I’m glad, too,” she said with only love in her eyes.  “I should hate to look in the mirror and not recognize myself.”

“Funny.”  Gregor said the word.

“I only hope your brother will understand,” Festuscato said.

“Macreedy will have trouble, but he will get over it,” Mirowen smiled.

In the morning, Festuscato, Bran, Gregor and Luckless the dwarf mounted up for the ride into Germany.  Wulfgar would guide them safely to the border.

“I’ll miss her,” Festuscato admitted.  “Especially first thing in the morning.  Every man should wake up to a vision like her.”

“Aye,” Gregor agreed.  “And I’ll miss that little scamp of a Mousden.”

“He did say going with her seemed the less dangerous course,” Luckless pointed out.

“Moi?”  Festuscato pointed to himself.  “I am a man of peace and comfort.”

“Yes,” Gregor agreed again.  “But then, danger does tend to swirl around you like a whirlwind.  Just because you like the calm at the center doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t get caught up.”

“I’ll miss the cleric,” Bran said.

“He will get the story straight, even to the end of Beowulf’s days, or his disciple will, and the story will work its’ way back to England, you know.”  Festuscato promised.  “Maybe your grandchildren will read it someday.”

“We need to go,” Wulfgar said.

“He said we need to go,” Luckless translated.

“Aye.”  Festuscato said in imitation of Gregor’s word, and they went.

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Tomorrow

The tale of Gerraint, son of Erbin,  in the days of Arthur, Pendragon, begins.

When ghostly hands carry a cauldron across the round table, Gerraint has to act.  Arthur deftly turns all talk to the Holy Graal, but Gerraint knows he has to stop the older men from recovering the ancient treasures of the Celts and dredging up the past.  Christendom is only a thin veneer and if Abraxas is allowed to strip that away, history might be irrevocably changed.

Enjoy.

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M3 Festuscato: Mother

Most knew something was up, but Festuscato had to stare down Mousden to keep his tongue quiet.  The Geats did not delay their departure, and as soon as they were gone, Gregor spoke first.

“What?” he asked.

Mirowen yanked her hand free and gave Festuscato a hard look.  She did not know why she could not have gone with the Geats.  She was virtually pledged to be their future queen.

“Not just yet,” Festuscato said, but he got interrupted by Mousden.

“Yea, what, what?”  Mousden squeaked.

“A werewolf cannot be killed by a simple stab through the heart.”  He reminded the ones who knew better and informed the others.  “I expect she will be along when the moon rises.”

“Oh.”  Mirowen lowered her eyes and accepted her place.  She would not desert her Lord when he might need her.  Mousden, however, was anything but happy with the news.

“Wait up!”  He shouted to the Geats, but Festuscato compelled him to stay.  “Not fair.”  He protested, and went high in the nearest tree to hide.  He wanted no part of monsters.

They waited, but not as long as before.  Soon enough, the moon came up, full enough for another night.  With that, the waters of the lake began to boil and Festuscato got out his bow.  Nameless, the old god of the north knocked on his consciousness from the time stream.  Festuscato shook his head.  As Gerraint had said in his own time, this was Festuscato’s life and Festuscato needed to live or die on his own.  He took one of the precious silver-tipped arrows from his quiver.  They were the gift of the goddess, long ago.  He set Bran to one side and Gregor to the other once it became clear where the beast would emerge.  Then they waited.

The hag came up out of the lake and stopped before them, just out of the water.  “You have a death wish.”  The hag’s grating voice sounded deep, and just barely under control.  “I will grant it, to the last drop of my son’s life,” it said.  Immediately, a serpent sprang from the water so Bran became forced to step back and defend himself.  Luckless ran to help.  At the same time, the hag slashed out at Gregor with remarkable speed.  Gregor’s spear shattered, and Gregor himself crashed against a tree to slump down, the wind utterly gone from him.

The hag paused to best consider how to tear the man apart, but the moment was all Mousden needed.  He landed on the back of the hag and both fore claws and hind claws dug deep into the fur and flesh.  The hag howled and flung its arms back, but it could not grab the pixie.

“Leave my friend alone,” Mousden screeched in the hag’s ear.  The hag arched its back. And by then it again faced the others and had stumbled a few steps from Gregor.

“Now, Mousden,” Festuscato shouted over the roar of the beast.  “Let go.”

“Clear.”  Mousden shouted back and Mirowen struck the beast with every ounce of fire she had.  The hag became instantly aflame, head to foot, and then Vingevourt put it out.

The hag paused, and then howled.  They could see it melt right before their eyes, but then something happened they only half expected.  The hag transformed to the wolf.

The werewolf snarled.  They heard the ravenous hunger and the bestial aspect, but they did not hear the mindless, madness that usually went with it.  In fact, the wolf understood something in that moment, and it spoke.  “You killed my son,” it said.

Festuscato decided the better part of valor was to live to fight again.  He surrendered, left that time and place altogether, and the Nameless god came to draw the bow.  Festuscato was good.  Mirowen was inhumanly good, but Nameless was mostly a god of war, and never known to miss.  He fired as the wolf leapt at his throat.  The wolf crashed into an invisible barrier the god had erected and collapsed to the dirt.  It changed back at last to the woman, and she looked curious.  How could this be?

“Silver tipped.”  Nameless told her, and she died at his feet.

As he did with the werewolf in the days when Greta trudged the forests of Dacia, Nameless caused a twenty-foot-deep hole to appear in the earth.  He made sure the woman and every drop of her infected blood went into that hole, and then he placed a boulder on top, effectively encasing her in stone so she could not be unsuspectingly dug up.  Last, he set dirt on top and caused two branches to hold together in a cross.

“I don’t know her name,” he admitted.

“Greta,” Mirowen said.

“How ironic.”  Nameless responded, and he caused Greta to be burned on the cross piece and set it up as a grave marker.

“And may God have mercy on her soul,” Bran said, as he joined them.  The serpents had gone again, but one had sunk into the deep with Luckless’ ax in its skull.

“Just my luck,” Luckless complained, and several smiled.

“And now, stay here.”   Nameless commanded, and no one argued as Nameless stepped about half-way up a small rise in the land.  He opened his mouth.

“Abraxas!”  It did not sound too loud at first, but the sound began to grow as it went out from that place, ever louder and in ever larger circles, like a pebble in a clear, calm pool.  The hall of Heorot shook, and men wondered.  The Jutes heard and reconsidered their planned invasion of Danish lands.  In Bavaria, the witches covered the ears of their children.  In the Crimea, the sound echoed off the waves of the Black Sea, and it reverberated through the Ural Mountains.  Among the Lapps, where men looked to the sky to see if the sky was falling.  And then Abraxas appeared, twenty feet further up at the top of the rise.

Dark haired, dark eyed Abraxas looked like a young man almost too lean for words.  He stared at the one who called him and would have spit and left if he could.  All he could do was spit; but it not only did not touch Nameless, some of it got caught in Abraxas’ goatee.

“Who are you?”  The words had an eerie echo to them, and the others were glad they got left behind.

“Who are you to trifle in the halls of Aesgard and Vanheim after the dissolution?”  Nameless asked in return.

“I have every right to be here,” Abraxas insisted.  “All of Europe is mine for the taking.”

Nameless took a few steps closer and Abraxas stepped back.  “I am the god now.”  Abraxas puffed out his slender chest.  “I rule over good and evil, over light and dark, over fire and water, and soon enough I will rule over the earth.”

“Your father?”  Nameless asked and guessed.

“Janus,” Abraxas said.

“The two-faced fool.”  Nameless insulted the God.  “So that gives you good and evil?”

“Yes.”  Abraxas yelled.

“When does the good start?”  Nameless wondered out loud.

“You will see,” he said.  “When I rule in the place of the old gods, the people will see how beneficent I can be.”

“But meanwhile, you need to break a few eggs to make that omelet,” Nameless said.  Abraxas nodded slowly.  “I killed your son.”  Nameless took a couple of steps closer.  Abraxas did take one step back, but that put him near the edge.  By taking the higher ground he gave himself nowhere to run.

“I am better rid of that dim-witted boy.”  Abraxas spat again, but the spittle stayed on his chin.  He got hemmed in, and he knew it.

“I killed your bitch.”  Nameless said, referring to the wolf.

“I am grateful.”  Abraxas smiled and tried to change tactics.  “She had become very tiresome.”

“Your son said you could have cured her.”  Nameless took another step.

Abraxas tried to brush it off with a laugh.  “Why would I cure her?  I infected her to force her to bring the boy to the city.  I had high hopes on creating chaos there.”

“All you created was death,” Nameless said.  He was only a few steps away.  “What right have you to trifle with the halls of Aesgard and Vanheim?”  He repeated his question.

“Every right.”  Abraxas said too loudly.  “My mother Morrigu was of the North and the Danna.  Who are you?”  He repeated his question.  “The gods are all gone.  You should not be here.”

“Morrigu.”  Nameless understood.  She was the daughter of his own father, Tyr of the One Hand and her mother was the greater spirit of battle.  Morrigu gave birth to the daughters of fury among the Tuatha de Danna, but when Danna’s own son, Nuadan died, she must have had a last fling before the dissolution.  That made Abraxas only a seven-eighths God and one eighth greater spirit.  It also made Abraxas his nephew.

“Who are you?”  Abraxas screamed at him as Nameless took one more step.

“Nameless,” he said.  “But you can call me Uncle.”

Abraxas’ eyes got big.  “But you should not be here.  The gods have all gone over to the other side.”

Nameless shook his head.  “But as the last of both Aesgard and Vanheim, I have decided you cannot make hags in every place you touch.  This world does not need to be torn apart by fear, blood and death.  You need to consider the goodness that did exist in your father Janus, and the nobility that was your grandfather, Tyr, who was also my father.  Therefore, I will let you continue for a time.  But I exile you.  You may no longer enter the land that was of Aesgard.  To do so will be instant dissolution, which is death.”

“You cannot do this,” Abraxas protested.

“I can, and it is done,” Nameless said, and Abraxas faded from sight, protest still echoing from his lips.

Nameless turned to walk back to the others, and as he did, he went home and let Festuscato return to his rightful time and place.  “Everyone deserves a chance at redemption,” he explained when he reached the others.

“I see slim hope for that one,” Gregor said and put his hand to his head.

“You have got to stop blocking monster blows with your head,” Mousden scolded him.

Bran, Mirowen, Luckless and Vingevourt all laughed, briefly, but Festuscato spoke softly, other things on his mind.  “Let us go to Heorot,” he said, and turned to Mirowen.  He added, “I am going to miss you.”  Mirowen began to cry, because she was happy, and because she would miss him, too.

 

 

M3 Festuscato: Chasing the Tale, part 2 of 2

“Oh, okay.”  Festuscato said.  One wave of his hand and the glamour fell from all present.  Mirowen’s points turned a little red from the way Beowulf looked at her and smiled.  Luckless looked around, worried about who might be watching.  Mousden fluttered up to Beowulf’s face and reached out to touch the man’s eyes.  He was not about to go down into that water or anywhere near the werewolf if he could help it.  Hrugen watched his father’s response.  To his surprise, Unferth did not blink.

“I’ve seen it all,” Unferth said.  “And more.  You would be surprised what drink can show you.”

Festuscato took that moment to speak what had been pressing on his mind.  “Remember, a hag can still think, intelligently.  This one may be able to do so even in wolf form.”  He meant it as a warning not to count on blind rage from the beast should the wolf attack.  Beowulf nodded that he understood, and then he had to think about it.

Beowulf blinked from Mousden’s work when Festuscato moved on.  “Luckless.”  He turned to the dwarf, having already discussed things with him.

“Yes,” Luckless said, and pulled something out of a bag which he did not seem to have in his hands moments ago.  “My Uncle made this.  It is sort of a family heirloom, so I hope you will take good care of it.”  Beowulf nodded.  It appeared to be a coat of the finest chain mail.

“Will it fit?”  Hrugen asked.

Luckless nodded.  “Like my Lord’s armor.  It always fits.”

Beowulf put it on without questioning.  It had been wonderfully made, and clearly the product of a master dwarf, the craftsman’s skill at its best.  “This is marvelous,” Beowulf said.  “Thank your Uncle.”

“Alas, Uncle Weland is dead.”  Luckless sighed.

“The chain of Weland.”  Unferth recognized the name.  He reached out and touched it, even as Mirowen translated into Geat and Beowulf shouted.

“The chain of Weland!”

Any number of Geats came over at that, though most kept their distance on seeing the dwarf and the elves.  Bran and Gregor nodded and waved from the lakeside, but Wulfgar was attracted to the shout, as was the king, and Seamus followed after.

“The chain of Weland,” Unferth said for the Danes.  They looked impressed, but Mirowen looked at Festuscato.  She considered the sword at his back, but he shook his head and she knew better than to ask.  Instead, Mirowen took her scarf and tied it around Beowulf’s arm.  He took her hand and spoke softly.

“I’ll be back,” he said, but Festuscato did not think he said it with the right Austrian accent.

“Here,” Unferth interrupted.  “Take my sword.  Its name is Hrunting.  It served me well in many battles and broke many swords.  May it serve you with equal strength.”  Hrugen looked surprised at the gesture.  Beowulf looked grateful.

“My thanks Unferth, son of Ecglaf,” he said.  He checked the time by the sun.  “I better go before the time passes by.”  He surprised Mirowen with a kiss before he turned his back on everyone and walked straight into the water.  He walked, until his head went under and he became lost from sight.

“How about you, Roman.  Does your sword have a name?”  Unferth asked as a jibe.  He just could not help being negative and wanting a chance to degrade others.

“Kismet.”  Festuscato nodded.  When Unferth wrinkled his brow, he tried, “Morae?”

“Wyrd.”  Bran, Gregor and Hrugen spoke in unison.  They gave the Norwegian name by which the sword was known in those parts.

“The sword of fate?”  Unferth said, hardly believing it.

“The sword of the gods?”  King Hrothgar said, half believing it.

Wulfgar stepped up to examine Festuscato’s armor more closely, but by then Festuscato had his arm around Mirowen and started leading her apart to a stone where they could sit, and wait.

“One of them,” Gregor said, as Bran stepped between Wulfgar and Lord Agitus to give him and Mirowen some privacy.  Wulfgar did not press.

“Now we wait.”  King Hrothgar voiced the sentiment.  And they did.  Some men took the horses back from the smell of the dead lake to where they could be safely tied.  Others paced.  Some occasionally fingered their swords as they kept an eye on the water for snakes or whatever else might emerge, and hoped against hope to see Beowulf again.

“Brave man.”  That was all Bran said in all of those hours.

“Aye.”  That was all the usually verbal Gregor added.

Mousden fretted by flying between two trees, like a bird that could not find a comfortable perch while Vingevourt sat and made a puddle, waiting, and shook his head at the bad water.  Mirowen was beside herself, but Festuscato held her and gave her what courage he had.  Luckless produced a leg of beef as big as his arm, but even he only nibbled at the shank.

“What is happening?”  Wulfgar asked out loud several times.

“Cannot be good,” King Hrothgar said at last.  About an hour before dark, he decided that Beowulf must have failed.  They saw no sign of life or movement across all the slick surface of the lake.  “We go home,” the king announced.  He eyed the sun.  The habit of being in and safe by dark remained too strong in the old man’s mind.  Of course, the Geats stayed, and Festuscato and his crew, but the Danes got ready to leave.

“We’ll catch up,” Festuscato told the king, and the king nodded.  Festuscato appreciated the fact that the king did not say it was hopeless, however strongly the king may have felt that way.  Mirowen was a wreck, and that might have pushed her too far.

“You are a strange one, Roman.”  The king said, Wulfgar beside him.  “For what it is worth, my wife guessed, you know.”  He waved at the little ones and turned and left, the Danes following.

At sundown, the Geats lost hope.  They were ready to turn toward home, the first riders ready to set out, when the surface of the lake came alive.

“What is it?”  Mousden shrieked and headed toward a higher branch.

“The serpents return at dark?”  Gregor asked.

Mirowen had her sharp eyes trained on the spot.  “It’s Beowulf!” she shouted.  “It’s him,” she said to Festuscato and the Geats.  The last two Geats came back, and a third went to fetch the others.  “It’s him!”  Mirowen shouted once more.

Bran stayed ready, wading as far into the deep as he could.  He grabbed Beowulf by the arm and pulled, but something seemed very heavy.  Beowulf clearly appeared too worn to speak.  Gregor jumped in after Bran, and then the two Geats joined them.  When they finally got Beowulf ashore so Mirowen could jump him, they found the head of the Grendel clutched firmly in his grasp.

“I found a sword of old, such as the frost giants used,” Beowulf said at last, when Mirowen let him breathe.

“Tell me.”  Seamus stood right there.

“Later.”  Festuscato suggested, but nobody listened as Beowulf went into a long story about his struggle, the breaking of Hrunting, and finally piercing the heart of the Wolf-hag, as he called it.  He told about the long struggle to get there and the struggle to return, but Festuscato wondered if the wolf had really died.

“It is dark,” Festuscato said at last.  “Seamus, go with Beowulf.  You will hear the story better when you have your paper in hand.”

“True, true.”  Seamus agreed, while Festuscato grabbed Mirowen’s hand.

“You two.”  He spoke to two of the Geats.  “Get that head up to carry.  A present for Hrothgar.”

“My thinking.”  Beowulf said and smiled at Mirowen.

“We will follow,” Festuscato said, and stepped between the lovers.  “We have much to discuss.”

Beowulf looked taken back for a moment, but he nodded.  “I will await your pleasure in the hall of Heorot.”  He snapped orders to his men and got his mounts, Seamus with him.

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MONDAY

The final chapter…Mother.  Don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading

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M3 Festuscato: Chasing the Tale, part 1 of 2

The moon went down and the sun got ready to rise as people gathered in the hall.  Hrothgar looked like a man defeated.  The Danes looked to Beowulf and Beowulf looked to Festuscato who simply stood and seemed to look at nothing in particular.

“Mother.”  Gregor mouthed the word as he closely examined the blood splattered around the room.

“But with all that red, the trail should be easy enough to follow,” Bran said.

“What do you mean, mother?”  Wulfgar asked.

Beowulf turned his head and looked again at Festuscato.

Unferth said, “You failed.”  He shot the words at Beowulf but people ignored him.  Hrugen took him to a table.

“Aschere’s missing.”  Svergen pointed out.

“Lord, there are signs of forced entry at the gate.”  One of the Geats reported.  Festuscato smiled.  Beowulf had not been entirely just waiting.

“Damn gate’s about off its hinges,” the Gatekeeper said to no one in particular.

“How’s Mousden?”  Seamus asked.

“About to let go of yesterday’s lunch,” Luckless said.  “Can’t imagine there’s much left in there.”

“Poor little guy.”  Mirowen soothed his brow.

Wulfgar yelled and verbalized the fear that everyone felt.

Festuscato moved.  Beowulf followed, and because of that, Wulfgar and Svergen followed as well.  Unferth watched, and the entrance by the kitchen cook did not distract an eye.

“Sorry your majesty,” the cook apologized.  “Ragnard must have run off.  I guess the Grendel finally became too much for him, screams in the night and all.”

“Shh!”  The king watched as well while Festuscato picked a few hairs from a table.  They were not human hairs.  He brought them up to the wall where the arm of the Grendel had been hanging and where a few of the Grenfell’s hairs still clung to the nail.

“The Grendel was gray,” Festuscato said.  “These are brown and much coarser.”  Beowulf saw, but Wulfgar had to shove up front for a closer examination.  Festuscato gave him the hairs to examine to his heart’s content.  “Ragnard was the Grendel,” he said.

“Ragnard?”  Svergen spoke for many.

“But what does this mean?”  Wulfgar asked.  He seemed terribly confused.

“Mother.”  Bran and Gregor spoke together, Mirowen dutifully translating into Dane and then Geat.  Festuscato could see the light slowly dawn in the faces of the men around the room.

“No.”  The king objected.  “I knew the woman.”

“She has the wolf disease,” Mirowen said on her own.

“Fortunately, a werewolf is really not all that hard to track,” Festuscato said.  “Though I would not normally recommend it.”

“Are you saying we track down this ravenous beast?”  Svergen questioned their sanity.

“Such a wolf would be most vulnerable in the daytime,” Beowulf spoke at last.

“I’m coming,” Unferth yelled.  “Me and my son.”  Hrugen stood with a strange expression on his face.  His father finally accepted him, but he would have the burden of an alcoholic father for the rest of his days.

“We’re all coming.”  The king said, and no one said anything more.

Forty horses left the city around ten in the morning.  Festuscato lead the pack, tracking the beast, though he already assumed they would end up by the lake that Vingevourt had called “bad water.”  Vingevourt rode on his blanket behind Bran.  Mousden rode with Gregor, and needed until ten to settle his stomach and his mind for the adventure.  Seamus rode his own horse, and Luckless his pony.  Mirowen rode beside Beowulf and they were followed by the thirteen Geats, one having been killed by the Grendel.  There were eighteen Danes lead by the king and Wulfgar, Svergen having taken his place along the coast.  Unferth rode behind the king and Hrugen rode beside his father.

Festuscato thought the trail too easy.  He briefly wondered if the woman deliberately wanted to be found.  He changed his mind around noon.  They found Aschere’s head in a tree branch.

“It is a warning.”  Many felt it, but Festuscato shook his head.

“Probably all that was left of the man when the sun rose and the wolf changed.”  He eased a few minds saying that, whether he believed it or not.  All the same, the sight seemed enough to unnerve a man, whatever the reason for Aschere’s head being there.  Two of the Danes got it down and one wrapped it quickly in his cloak.

“Bad water.”  Vingevourt took the moment to sniff the air.  They were near.

They dismounted beside the lake.  It took half the men just to hold the horses.  The lake indeed looked covered in an oil slick.  Festuscato could smell the tars.  Vingevourt wanted no part of it.

“Dead water,” he called the lake.

“Why have we stopped here?”  The king came up.  “I see no dwelling.”

“The beast entered the water at this point,” Festuscato said.  “My guess would be an underwater cavern or cave of some sort.”

“No, Lord.  Don’t ask me.”  Vingevourt spoke up quickly.

“No fear,” Festuscato said.  He had no intention of risking the water sprite.

Wulfgar prepared to send men around the lake to see if the beast came up again at some point, but Beowulf stopped him with his hand.  “No need,” Beowulf said.  “It appears as if the lake is coming to us.”  He pointed.

The lake looked to be boiling.  Serpents came, and not a small one in the lot.  Men stepped back, and some barely kept from bolting when the boldest snake reared ten feet up.  Festuscato pulled his bow to the ready, but Mirowen shot first, a perfect shot that entered the lower jaw and exited the top of the skull.  The snake stayed up a moment before it collapsed.  In that moment of distraction, however, another serpent came up alongside them.  Beowulf and Wulfgar both hacked at it with their swords.  The snake shriveled under their blows and finally got cut in two.

With that, the other snakes hesitated, as if some intelligence guided them.  The bubbling began again, and soon they were lost from sight under the murky water.

“Beowulf.”  Festuscato pulled the man aside while Seamus distracted the king and Wulfgar stood with Gregor and Bran, looking for more serpents in the water.  Mirowen followed with Vingevourt who wanted no part of that slime. Festuscato had to wave Luckless and Mousden to join them as they sought out a place apart from the others.  Hrugen and Luckless had been conversing, and so Hrugen followed, and his father followed after him.

“Vingevourt,” Festuscato said.  “He will need to breathe under the water.”

Beowulf grabbed Festuscato’s arm, and not too softly.  Beowulf stared at him as if protesting.  He did not want to have to do this, but then he glanced at Mirowen and he knew, without a doubt, that he had to finish the job.  He surrendered to the inevitable.

Vingevourt floated up to face the man and laid his wet, gingerbread-like hands against Beowulf’s cheeks.  Then the sprite returned to the earth and spoke.  The water will not drown him.  Breathe normally. And the weight will not crush him, no matter how deep he goes.”

“I don’t feel different,” Beowulf admitted, but Festuscato already moved on to the next step.

“Mousden.  The man will need to be able to see in the dark.  It may be black as tar down there.”

“But Lord,” Mousden protested.  “I can’t with my big form gumming everything up.  And there are too many men around.”

Festuscato laughed without explanation.  After the Grendel, these men were on a hunt for a werewolf.  What would a couple of elves and a dwarf be compared to that?  “You will have to guide him, then,” Festuscato said with a smile.

“Lord!”  Mirowen protested while Luckless and Hrugen chuckled.

“No!”  Mousden shouted.  “Ungh!”  He really tried.

M3 Festuscato: Love Revealed

The celebration over the death of the Grendel was great, and went on all day and into the evening.  In the tradition of the Danes, men came to the king’s hall and the king’s table to be feasted and such feasting went on around the clock.  Blankets were available, and men generally curled up on the floor, the benches and the tables and slept until breakfast, when things started up all over again.

Beowulf was gifted beyond reason.  The arm and hand of the Grendel got nailed to the wall, and the others could hardly stop singing Beowulf’s praises.  They had an especially poignant moment when the sun went down and no one vacated the hall.  A great cheer went up, and it lasted a good ten minutes, sort of like Times Square, New York on New Year’s Eve; but then Beowulf excused himself and went to the room prepared for him.  He looked exhausted more than anything else.

Festuscato and his crew also left the hall at that point, having stayed up all night themselves; but before Festuscato could sleep, he took Mirowen to see the Geat.

“No, I can’t,” Mirowen said, and she pulled back a little, but not too hard.  She feared what Beowulf would say if he really knew the truth.  But then, she had already explained at least a little, so she did not resist too hard.  “Can’t you just fix it?” she asked, knowing the answer full well.

Festuscato could not imagine how she spent enough time with the man to even tell him a little, but he knew that love had a way of bringing lovers together when no one knew.

“I could go invisible and he’ll not know I am there, and he will think you are crazy,” Mirowen threatened.

“Not crazy, nuts, remember?  Don’t make me force you.”  Festuscato threatened right back.

“I could scream,” Mirowen said.

“Scream all you like.  I am sure he would find that picture most attractive,” Festuscato said.

“Oh!  You’re impossible,” she pouted.

He dragged her the last couple of steps to Beowulf’s door where she yanked her hand free and stood with her arms folded while Festuscato knocked.

The door opened slowly and Beowulf stepped aside to invite them in without a word, as if he had been expecting them.  Mirowen sat daintily on the couch, her hands folded and in her lap, her eyes closed as if she did not want to watch, only her red, pointed ears were wide open.  She would have to translate.

“Noble Roman,” Beowulf began.  “I see now your wisdom is far greater than I would have suspected.”  He paused to rub his shoulder.  Clearly his struggle with the beast had strained his muscles to the limit.  “I do not feel the least hesitation now in asking your permission for my lady’s hand.  I could search the world over and never find one so lovely and so worthy to someday be queen.”

Festuscato sat, though uninvited.  He had a hard time keeping a straight face.  “God!”  He said to Mirowen.  “I feel like your father.  There’s a switch.”  Mirowen did not translate.  She gave him a nudge with her eyes.  Beowulf waited.

“Tell me first what she has told you,” Festuscato said.  Beowulf paused.  He had not been expecting that question.  Perhaps all he expected was a yes or no.

“She has told me she is not human, that she is an elf of the light, and that you are her Lord and might very well say no.”  Beowulf spoke slowly.  Mirowen wanted to correct him on one point, but Festuscato had her hold her tongue.

“I need to know what he heard, not what you said.”  He told her, and turned again to Beowulf.  “And do you believe this?”  He asked.

Beowulf paused even longer than the first time.  “I will not doubt my lady’s word,” he said at last.

“But do you believe this?”  Festuscato asked again.  Beowulf had not answered the question.  “She may be mad you know.”  Festuscato suggested and ducked in case Beowulf, or more likely, Mirowen chose to hit him.

Beowulf actually took courage from the suggestion.  “Then I will have a mad wife,” he said rather loudly and went to stand beside Mirowen and held her hand before he continued.  “I came here on the word of a water sprite, one who calls himself King of the Whale Road.  Before then I thought such creatures were the ravings of men too long at sea.  But when I arrived, I saw this king bow to you and call you Lord.  However odd that may have seemed, I did not forget.  Then I fought with a creature which if any man had told me, I would have proclaimed him mad, or at best beset by nightmares.  And now, my Lady Mirowen has declared herself an elf.  I am in no position to doubt her.  What else can I do?”

“See with your own eyes and decide,” Festuscato said.  Mirowen shouted “No!” without rendering the words for Beowulf, but it was too late.  With a wave of Festuscato’s hand, the glamour around Mirowen fell away and she sat revealed a true elf, pointed ears and all, though the ears were a little red at the moment.

Mirowen dared not look at her man, but Festuscato saw the briefest moment of shock before the man fell to her feet.  “Oh, my lady,” Beowulf said.  “How I wondered in my mind and struggled against doubt with more trouble than ever with the Grendel.  I am unworthy, but I beg you to marry me.  You, alone, can teach my heart to believe.”

“I will, sir,” Mirowen said as the smile creased her lips.  Then she abandoned herself to fling her arms around his neck.  “I will, I will.”  Festuscato understood what Mirowen said, of course.  He would understand her words no matter what language she spoke.  But then, he did not know what Beowulf said.  That got told to him later.

Festuscato stood up.  “One thing you must know,” he said, and watched them separate a little so Mirowen could translate.  “And one thing you must do.”  He paused and they pulled apart, but never let go of their hands.  “It is likely that you may never have children.”  He said it straight out, and Mirowen gasped and nearly cried as she translated.

“We have spoken of this,” Beowulf said.  “I have brothers and soon enough there will be nephews.  The throne will not want after our days.  But for the lady, I will simply have to love her all the more, and surround her with children if this is her desire.”  Mirowen did let a few tears fall, then, but they were happy tears.  Then Beowulf stood like a man ready.  “So what must I do?”  He asked.

“You must finish your work here.”  Festuscato said.  “I will give you my answer only after the work is done.”

“But have I not defeated the beast?  Is the work not done?”  Beowulf did not understand.

“Not yet.  I don’t think so.”  Festuscato shook his head.  “But at least sleep on it tonight, and then we will see.”  Beowulf looked reluctant.  Festuscato turned to Mirowen.  “Make the fire dance in your hand,” he commanded.  She held up her hand and a small flame came up to dance for a moment in the wind before Festuscato took her by the hand.  “Sleep on it.”  He spoke again to Beowulf.  “There is much to consider.  Do not let your youth drive you into the water even to save a friend.  It is not a wrong thing to check the water first for monsters.  Sleep.”

Beowulf took a step back and reluctantly nodded.  “I will bow to the wisdom of age,” he said.

Mirowen and Festuscato were half way down the hall before Festuscato responded.  “Hey.  I’m not that old!”

Mirowen wanted to laugh, but found no laughter in her.  He took her all the way to her room before he talked to her heart.  “Well, it was bound to happen someday,” he said, with a grin and kissed her goodnight.  She beamed when she shut the door.

“So now?”  Bran stood in the hall, and Luckless with him.

“So now we see what mother will do.”  Festuscato responded, before he went into his room.

Around three or four in the morning, the still of the night got interrupted by screams.  A new and most grisly murder occurred in Heorot, the hall where Hrothgar was king.

M3 Festuscato: Beowulf and the Grendel, part 3 of 3

The trail turned out to be easy enough.  Festuscato thanked the goddess Diana, the huntress, all the same, for blessing his reflection with the hunter’s spirit.  It was a gift which reflected in him sufficiently so he never doubted the trail for a moment.

Deep in the woods, after nearly three hours, they caught up with the beast.  Even as the sun began to redden the Eastern horizon, they knew who it was.  Ragnard, the cook’s assistant had a stump for an arm where his arm slowly started growing back.

“Why?”  Festuscato asked the obvious question, while he and the others dismounted from their skittish animals. Bran already had his sword in both hands to support his strained wrist and Gregor clutched his spear.  Mirowen came up to stand beside Festuscato, but Mousden kept his distance while Vingevourt made an off-handed comment.

“Lake near here.”  He sniffed the air and muttered.  “Bad water.”

“My mother.”  Ragnard sniffed tears and shouted.

“What about her?”  Mirowen asked.

“She did not raise a thrall.”  Ragnard spat.  “I am better than any of them.  I showed them.”  His voice trailed off for a moment but the others kept silent so he started up again.  “She caught the wolf disease.  My father would not help her, so she took me to Heorot to be raised and trained as a warrior.  But they called me fatherless.  An orphan, they said, though some of them knew my mother well enough from the old days.  I showed them.”

“Your mother took you to the king.  Why did she not stay and fight for your rights?”  Mirowen felt confused.

“She caught the wolf disease!”  Ragnard yelled at her.  The anger rose up in his face.

“Werewolf,” Festuscato said, quietly.

“She did not want to hurt me.”  Ragnard went on.  “She did not know that I would change.  That was because of my father.”

“And who was your father?”  Festuscato asked, having a suspicion.

“Abraxas.”  Ragnard growled, and he began to grow and change into the beast right before their eyes.  “And now I must kill you.”

“Behind me.”  Festuscato shouted and pulled Wyrd with one hand while he pushed Mirowen behind him with the other.  The beast paused.

“This will cut more than fingers,” Festuscato said sharply.

The beast howled and took one step forward when Mirowen burst free of Festuscato’s grip and screamed at the beast.

“No!”  Her hands came up and the eldritch fire of old burst from her fingertips and set the hair covered Grendel instantly to flame.  The beast howled in surprise, but only for a moment before it began to grow even larger, nine feet, perhaps ten, and its’ missing arm began to grow back at an alarming rate.

“Its’ making him stronger,” Bran breathed, as indeed it appeared that the fire of old resonated with some spiritual legacy from his father.

Grendel growled, lower, louder and more fiercely than ever as Vingevourt soaked him with water intended to douse the flame.  The shock of it caused the beast and everyone else to pause.  Then they saw.  The fire got extinguished, and something broke in the beast’s face.  The arm which had almost become whole, shriveled again to near human proportions, while the beast himself began to shrink, not as it had grown, but almost like the Wicked Witch of the West melting under the sting of mop water.

Grendel howled once more, but it sounded like a mournful, pain-filled and pitiful sound.  Somehow, the combination of fire that appeared to strengthen him, put out suddenly by the water, overloaded the legacy inside of him.  The fire and the water did not mix.  It ruined him.  The beast shrank to eight feet tall, or more nearly seven, and appeared to be decomposing from the inside-out.  The others could smell it.  It smelled like death.  In a last dash, the Grendel turned and ran to dive into the nearby lake with the word “Mother” ill sounded on its’ lips.  And it was gone.

“But is it dead?”  Gregor asked.

“Yes,” Festuscato nodded.  “This time I think it is sincerely dead.”

“Poor Ragnard,” Mirowen said, and Bran nodded; but Mousden fluttered down to scream.

“Poor Ragnard?  That beast could have killed us all!  I want to go back to my caves where I only have bats and trolls and creatures of the dark to worry about.”

“Too bad,” Gregor said to Mousden.  He still clutched his spear.  “I was up for a good fight.”

“What is wrong with you?”  Mousden turned on Gregor.  “That creature could have had us all for breakfast!”

“Actually.”  Gregor waved the pixie in close.  “To be honest, I nearly soiled myself.”

Mousden paused in shock.  Then he patted his friend on the back.  “I would have protected you,” he said.

“Speaking of breakfast.”  Luckless spoke up, but he got interrupted by Festuscato.

“For the record, none of us were here.  This did not happen.  I will cast no aspersion on Beowulf’s honor or bravery.”

The others looked at each other and one by one they nodded.  Gregor was the only one who spoke.  “You’re the leader of this crazy expedition.  If that’s how you want it, Lord Agitus, its’ all right with me.  Not much of a fight for the telling, however you slice it.”

With that, they mounted for the return journey, but Festuscato came close to Mirowen and asked.

“Will you go to him?”

“That was very kind of you to preserve his honor and glory.”

“That was preserving history,” he said without explanation.  “But will you go to him?”

“My heart says I must,” she said, softly.

“And his heart?”  Festuscato asked.  Mirowen said nothing but bit her lower lip, slightly, and nodded.  Festuscato knew it was too late to turn back.  “It was bound to happen someday,” he said to her smile.  “I will miss you,” he added.

“I don’t understand.”  The ever-present Bran spoke from behind them.  Festuscato looked back once and wondered why Patrick and the new Pendragon both insisted he take Bran to Rome.  Surely it would be to watch Festuscato’s back.  Festuscato shook his head and spoke offhandedly.

“You see the fields and the trees.  You see the rising sun and the clouds drifting across the early morning sky.  And this is all I see, when I look; but what you do not see is the life that pervades it all and sets all things in fluid motion.  The universe is alive, and God help humanity when it decides the universe is nothing more than dead matter and energy.  Of course, since the Days of Dissolution, the work of life is being directed by the Spirit of the Most-High, and directly rather than indirectly through fallible agents.”  Festuscato paused to touch himself.  “But the work continues without ceasing.  I, on the other hand, sometimes make small, little bits of the spiritual world manifest for my own selfish comfort and company along the way of my interminable days, life after life.  But there are always consequences.  Jennifer gave up her spirit to live a few years with Aden the Convert, though I understand she is pregnant.  But I should say, Aden, the father, hasn’t been born yet.  Is this helping?”

“Not in the least,” Gregor said with a laugh, having ridden up beside Bran.

“Well, now Mirowen is in love and there appears to be no stopping it.”  He looked at her.  “Nor would I stop it.”

Mirowen could not hold back her smile, though her eyes spoke of something unsaid.  “My Lord is too melancholy, as usual,” she said.  “We count it a great blessing to participate in the life of the Kairos, even if only for a short time.  I have been blessed beyond reason, having known my Lord since he was a little child.”

“She was a second mother,” Festuscato admitted to Gregor’s skeptical look.

“Older sister, perhaps,” Gregor suggested.

“Seven hundred years older,” Bran remembered.

“No, like a mother to this motherless child,” Festuscato insisted, and then he understood what was unsaid in Mirowen’s eyes.  “But my poor childhood will have to do.  I am sorry.”  He reached for Mirowen’s hand and she did not deny him, reaching out to briefly touch his.  “Even if you choose this human, you will remain barren unless the almighty himself should ordain otherwise.”

“Do not think that impossible,” Bran said, to encourage her.  But Mirowen also understood.  She and Beowulf would have no children to follow on the throne.  It would be the last days of the Geats.  She smiled her acceptance, but she could not refuse one tear which appeared golden in the morning sun as it dropped gently to the grass.

************************

MONDAY

Love is revealed, but the fight with the Grendel is not over.  They have to see what mother will do.

*

M3 Festuscato: Beowulf and the Grendel, part 2 of 3

“Ragnard!  Fetch table and chairs.”  Aschere ordered for the king whose eyes were all on Beowulf apart from shifting once or twice toward Festuscato.

“Hail great king!”  Beowulf began, and Seamus wrote furiously.  Bran watched and smiled while a flushed Mirowen translated.  Mousden slept.  Luckless licked his fingers.  Gregor mumbled.  “Now we might see some action.” And Festuscato interjected the occasional, “Here, here!”

“I knew you as a child, a mere babe in arms,” the king said and smiled with great love and hope.  Indeed, everything appeared to be going swimmingly until Unferth the drunk shuffled back his chair to stand.  Hrugen sat with his father at that point, but there was no stopping the old man from acting like the bitter old drunk that he was.

“Braggart’s words.”  He shouted to gain everyone’s attention.  “The way I heard the tale, you lost in a simple swimming match to Brecca.”

“That wasn’t the way of it,” Beowulf growled and fingered his sword, but resisted his inclinations for the sake of the king.  “You tell a drunkard’s tale.”  He returned the insult before he returned his eyes toward the king.  “True, Brecca came ashore first, but I could have beaten him if it was a race.  In truth, we were both young and headstrong and full of the vigor of youth, not likely to heed the words of our elders, and thinking we could conquer the world, just us alone.  We were far out to sea in the midst of a roil of whales when the storm came up suddenly, as such storms are wont to do.  In truth, Brecca got washed overboard and cried for help and I dove in to rescue him.  And I might have, if the cold and cruel spirit of the nor’easter had not come up with a big blow.  We were separated then, and I saw no more of him.

“Here, here!”  Festuscato said, and Beowulf took that moment of distraction to look around the room.  He had an audience and he was not slow to take advantage of that.  “There I was in the churning deep, surrounded by monsters and the water nearly frozen.  The waves were as high as Heorot, the hall of Hrothgar itself.  And there I was in my chain with my sword at my side, struggling hard just to keep clean air in my mouth when I felt a slithering beast grab hold of my leg as if to drag me to my doom.  Glad I was then of my chain as the beast wound itself around me to crush my life and drag me back to its’ bottomless lair.  By the sword, I slew it and breathed again.  And nine others I killed after that first until at last, the sea itself had enough and spewed me out upon the shore.”

Beowulf paused to look again in Unferth’s direction.  “I could have won a simple race, if we had raced.  But I have heard no such glory come from your lips.  If you were half a man, this Grendel beast would not haunt the hall of your king.”  He went back to fingering his sword, hoping Unferth would make the first move, but Hrugen managed to pull his father back to his seat without further words, and the king spoke into the silence.

“Pay no attention to Unferth and his loose and envious tongue.  I am glad of your coming.  It was foretold to me by.”  He paused to look down.  “I cannot say, but I am glad you are here.  Only, I must warn you.  Your steel may have proved well against the serpents of the deep but it will not avail you against the Grendel.  They say the beast cannot be hurt by any weapon forged by man.  You must face this monster hand to hand.”  He shook his head while a voice spoke quietly in the hall.

“Hand to claw.”

Beowulf said nothing, but shot a sharp glance in Festuscato’s direction.  Festuscato stared back, dumbly, so Beowulf turned his gaze toward Mirowen.  He smiled and nodded slightly as if making a pledge to his lady.  Mirowen smiled a little in return, did her best not to fear for him, and covered her reddening ears at the same time.

“But for now.”  The king still spoke.  “Let us eat drink and be merry.”

“Here, here!”  Luckless said.

“For tomorrow we may die,” Festuscato finished the quote.

“Die?”  Mousden lifted his head, but Bran laid his big hand against the back of the Pixie’s head for reassurance, and Mousden drifted off to sleep again.

“Did you get all that, cleric?”  Gregor asked.  Seamus ignored him and continued to write.

“But will he kill the beast?”  Mirowen asked Festuscato quietly.

Festuscato shrugged.  “I don’t remember, exactly,” he said.  “I don’t think so.  Not entirely.  I seem to remember it goes strange.”  Mirowen put her hand on Festuscato’s arm.  She looked upset.  Festuscato reached down and patted her hand.  “But he will be all right.  At least I’m pretty sure.”

“The queen.”  The word went up as Wealtheow came in bearing a cup of mead. She smiled, went first to the Geats, and starting with Beowulf she offered a sip to each of their new guests, as was the custom.  One of her eyes, though, stayed on the king to be sure he took the medicine Ragnard brought.

The king sipped a little before he pushed Ragnard away and almost knocked him to the floor.  He looked up at the crowd.  “Roman,” he said.  “Have you a tale for us today?”  Heinrich the Bard always got the last telling.

“I do.”  Festuscato spoke up quickly.  “But better still, allow my Lady Mirowen to sing the tale of the young lovers.  Her voice is far more pleasant than mine.”  The men in the hall were quick to ascent, but Mirowen pulled back a bit.

“How could you!” she whispered, accusing, but Festuscato’s eyes appealed to the queen.  The queen responded.

“Mirowen, dear.  Come and sing it for me,” she said, assuming that Mirowen was shy in front of such a crowd of men.  Little did she know, only one man made Mirowen shy.   “Say we two are in my room alone.  Come sing for me.”  The queen requested.  Mirowen growled at Festuscato, but now she felt trapped.  Festuscato merely smiled, knowing full well the one to whom she would be singing of young lovers.  So what if Mirowen was nearly seven hundred years old?  She was an elf, albeit disguised; but elves were always young lovers, when they were in love.

As it turned out, the song got so well sung, and with hardly a touch of magic, the men merely smiled when she finished, and didn’t dare to breathe for fear of breaking the spell.  The king and queen were holding hands and teary-eyed.  Even Unferth paused for a time to soak in something far more powerful than drink.  Poor Heinrich would have a tough act to follow.

Men began to leave the hall as the twilight came on.  Ragnard brought plenty of soft cushions and blankets for the Geats and then absented himself quickly.  Wulfgar paid his respects to Festuscato and even Aschere said that he finally understood why Lord Agitus took the woman aboard ship.

Festuscato and his crew were near the last to leave.  Only the king stayed to the bitter end to wish Beowulf and his Geats the best of fortune.  Then all was dark and quiet.

Seamus got left to guard the rooms where he could make sense of his notes before he forgot everything that had been said on that day.  Gregor, Luckless, Vingevourt and Mousden were left with the horses, well back from the city gate.  Mirowen was supposed to be with them, but she insisted on hiding in the bushes with Bran and Festuscato, not far from the main door to the hall.  They waited for hours.

Mousden fluttered up every once in a while, to look over Festuscato’s shoulder, to keep an eye on what might be happening at the hall.  Every time he came back to the others, though, he always reported the same.  “Nothing.”  One time he tried to relieve the boredom.  “I spy with my little eye something that is gray.”

“It’s all gray, you dingbat.  It’s night.”  Gregor ended the game.

It got near two in the morning before they heard noises in the hall.  A man screamed.  They heard a loud crashing and stomping of feet, and then a roar.  Then the hall seemed to erupt in a kind of madness of men shouting and what sounded like furniture breaking.  Mirowen hid her face in her hands.

“Courage,” Festuscato said.  “Wait for it.”

They heard a loud snap, like the sound of a great limb of a tree being broken, and it got followed by a howl such as they heard on that night in Mirowen’s room, only this sounded much louder and much more frightening.  A moment later, the front doors of the hall got broken down and the Grendel came running out into the night, still howling but obviously trying to keep quiet.  The beast appeared to be missing an arm, but the acidic blood came slowly.

The Grendel rushed toward the main gate of the city, and Festuscato stood.  “Shall we go?”  He asked the rhetorical question.  Mirowen wanted to rush to the hall, but Festuscato grabbed her hand.  “We are not here, remember?”  She reluctantly followed her Lord.

M3 Festuscato: Beowulf and the Grendel, part 1 of 3

It took a great deal of convincing to get Mousden to go up to his night watch on the roof of the hall.  Good thing he went, because he popped in about two hours before sunrise with great news.

“A sail,” he said.  “Struggling hard against the wind, but the ship is coming on fast in spite of the struggle.  It should be here by noon.”

Festuscato woke enough to recognize that Mousden was speaking.  He got up to get dressed, and Hilde woke enough to imagine a bat.  She shrieked and pulled the covers over her head.

Mirowen did not sleep at all.  She could not imagine sleeping after their encounter with the Grendel.  “You amaze me.”  She shook her head.  “Shall we wake the king?”

Festuscato had intended that, but now he thought to let the old man sleep.  “We can catch him at breakfast,” he said, and they got out the chess set, a game which Mirowen usually won.

Breakfast came and went without the king.  Mirowen and Seamus were inclined to worry, lest something happened to the old man in the night.  Festuscato told them to keep their places, and soon enough he became able to distract their attention as the others showed up.

“And where have you been?”  Festuscato asked, generally, as Bran and Gregor came from opposite directions.

“Snoring wonderfully.”  Gregor admitted with a satisfied smile.  Bran shot him a look.

“I’ve been searching for the one with the missing finger.”  Bran admitted.  He shook his head.  Apparently, he had no luck.

“I looked myself,” Festuscato admitted.  “All digits present and accounted for.”

Luckless spoke up.  “The only bandage I saw was around Ragnard’s finger.  The cook’s assistant.  But the poor fool burned it in the grease.  I saw the finger, all red and swollen.”

“So where does that leave us?”  Mirowen asked.

“Are you sure of your suspicions?”  Seamus asked at almost the same time.

“How else would the creature know of the new arrivals to the hall and which rooms were theirs?”  Gregor said, and lifted his one, uncovered eyebrow for emphasis.

“Ours.  Which rooms were ours,” Seamus corrected.

“So?”  Mirowen retook the conversation.  “Where does that leave us?”

“With a lizard’s tale,” Festuscato said.

Mirowen nodded and answered the unspoken question of the others.  “Cut off a lizard’s tail and it will grow back,” she said.

The king came in then, but after an hour it was still not convenient to get his attention.  Finally, Mousden, the boy came running in.  It turned about ten in the morning.

“They have landed,” Mousden whispered.  “Svergen is with them now.”

“Mirowen,” Festuscato said as he stood, and she stood and went immediately to her post.  Bran of the bandaged hand and Gregor of the bandaged head followed Festuscato to the little room on the side where they once found Unferth.  Seamus, Luckless and Mousden held the table, though Mousden took a moment to lay his head down.

After making sure the little room remained empty and secure, Festuscato went to wait with Mirowen by the gate to the hall.  He found Svergen there and the Geats had already come up from the shore.  Vingevourt came with them, and it explained how their ship could come on so fast against the wind.  Mirowen had already separated out the young Beowulf, and they were talking quietly, a few steps apart from the others.  Festuscato thought he had better move fast if he was going to catch Beowulf before they went into the hall.  He paused only to acknowledge the water sprite.

“Vingevourt,” he said.  “I am glad you have come back to join us in this adventure.”

“I may be small,” Vingevourt confessed.  “But my Lord can count on me to contribute everything I have.”  Vingevourt bowed low, and that got Beowulf’s attention, along with the eyes of several of the Geats.

“Svergen,” Festuscato spoke up, which stopped the man at the door.  Mirowen dutifully translated his words.  “Before you fetch Wulfgar, for the king’s sake, allow me a few moments alone with young Beowulf.”

Svergen paused.  The Roman had no standing, being himself just a guest.  Clearly, Svergen had a distrust of outsiders, but then these Geats were outsiders as well.  He spent a moment considering the request and staring at the water sprite.  “For the king’s sake,” he said at last and went into the hall.

“Beowulf.”  Mirowen spoke.  “My Lord, Festuscato of whom I spoke.”  Mirowen made the introduction, but before she could translate, Festuscato interrupted.

“This way,” he said, and they followed him to the room while Mirowen furiously tried to explain something along the way.

The room was across a walkway, so not in the hall, proper.  It served as a storage room of some kind, but big enough for their purposes.  Gregor and Bran stood outside and gave the all clear to show the room remained empty.  When they went in, Beowulf became vocal.

“What is this about?”  Mirowen translated, hardly giving the full translation of all Beowulf said.

“How is the young man’s wrestling skills?”  Festuscato asked.

“What need have I for wrestling?”  Beowulf asked.  He paused to look at Festuscato who dressed in a comfortable tunic and hardly appeared a threat.  “I have heard you Romans enjoy that sport, but my steel speaks for me.”

Festuscato and Mirowen both shook their heads.  “The creature cannot be hurt by any weapon forged by man,” Mirowen explained.

Beowulf paused while Festuscato looked him over.  This was not the giant he had expected.  Beowulf stood shorter than Bran, and not much taller than Festuscato himself, but he looked very broad in the shoulders and clearly strong.  He looked like a lead cannonball, and probably as strong, though of course, cannons had not yet been invented.

“Turn around,” Festuscato instructed.  “And lift your arms a little.”  Beowulf did this as Mirowen explained, though the look on his face seemed wary.  “This is called a Full Nelson,” Festuscato said, and he slipped the hold on the man and barely got his fingers locked before the violent reaction.

Beowulf almost broke free at the start when he tried to lower his arms, but Festuscato wrapped his legs around his opponent and leaned in for more leverage.

“Don’t hurt him,” Mirowen cried, even as Beowulf tried to ram Festuscato against the wall.

“Not likely.”  Festuscato said as he gave a little more lean into the hold.  He felt afraid to put too much into it, for fear of hurting the man’s neck or dislocating one or both of the man’s shoulders.

“Wait.  Wait,” Mirowen said, and got in front of Beowulf so he could hardly move without hurting her.  He paused, and with that, Festuscato let go and ducked, just in case.

“My gift,” he said quickly and showed how his hands had been locked behind Beowulf’s neck.

“A gift,” Mirowen said to Beowulf who rubbed his neck and shoulders back to life.  He paused to smile for her before he left without another word.

“Nice battle,” Bran said, as they exited the door.

“Better you than me,” Gregor said with a grin.

“My arms feel broken,” Festuscato confessed.

“You could have hurt him,” Mirowen scolded, and Festuscato took her scolding to heart.  He heard something in her words which she did not recognize in herself.  All he thought was it was bound to happen, someday.

Back in their seats, one extra seat provided for perpetual to drip on, as Gregor put it, and they watched the Geats parade in.  Beowulf and his fourteen warriors did make an impressive band even in that great and glistening hall.

M3 Festuscato: What It Is, part 3 of 3

Mirowen and Festuscato chose to spend the afternoon exploring.  They found Unferth the drunk passed out in a side room near the hall.  Hrugen was there, crying, and Mirowen and Festuscato spent a great deal of time hugging him and telling him it would be all right.  They took him to the kitchen because he had missed both breakfast and dinner.  He said he was not hungry, but the kindly cook gave him a plate and he managed to eat it all.

“I’m sorry about what happened earlier,” Mirowen said to the kitchen servant, Ragnard.

“Why?”  Ragnard shot at her, bitterness in his voice.

“It was so unfair,” she said, a little taken aback.

“No one cares for Ragnard,” the young man said, and he turned his back on her to focus on his work.

“I only meant a kindness,” Mirowen said to Festuscato.

Festuscato took her hand and smiled for her.  “I know,” he said.  “But feeling stupid can block the ears.”

“If that is the case, most fee, imps, dwarfs, and all ogres should not be able to hear at all.”  She returned his smile.

“I said feeling, not being,” he said and let her go.  “And I only meant in humans.”

She gave him a sly look, but kept on walking.  They visited with Svergen of the coastal watch before they woke Mousden in time for supper, which had to be consumed early so the hall could be vacated by sundown.  Queen Wealtheow made her appearance in time to force Hrothgar to take his medicine.  She smiled toward Mirowen, who nodded in return.

“Got along well,” Festuscato said, like a question, and Mirowen nodded.  “But how did Seamus do?  That’s what I want to know.”

Bran and Gregor looked over.  Neither looked to have moved an inch since the mid-day meal.  They each waited for the other to speak, but finally Bran took the lead.

“Well enough for an Irish cleric,” he said.

Seamus said nothing, but shrugged without looking up.

“I’m bored,” Gregor said at last.  “I say we find this monster and get it over or leave in the morning.”

“Leave in the morning,” Mousden piped up.

“A few days,” Festuscato said.  “Just a few days.”

When they had supped, and returned to their rooms, Festuscato stayed a bit with Mirowen and Mousden in Mirowen’s room.

“Nothing,” he confessed.  “Wulfgar the proud, Aschere the slime, Svergen the blind, Heinrich the unbeliever, and Unferth the unconscious.  None of them seems right.  I just don’t see a monster in them.”

“Your eyes are not infallible,” Mirowen said.

“Me neither,” Mousden confirmed.  “And I can smell a monster a hundred miles off.”

“I’ll bet,” Festuscato said with a smile.  “And maybe not infallible, but both Artemis the hunter and Justitia justice enhanced, remember?”

“I do remember,” she said.  “But if it isn’t one of them, then who?”

She hardly finished the sentence when something roared in the hall.  They heard a loud bang as Gregor got knocked to the wall.  Bran, being larger, got knocked through the door, the hilt of his broken sword still clutched in his hand.  Both men were only partially conscious as the creature came into the room, bending a little against the low, eight-foot ceiling.

“I see the elf.”  The creature said in a voice that sounded like a loud whine, but fog horn deep.  “I see the dwarf and the winged one.  They cannot hide from me.”

Mirowen backed away.  Mousden flew to the highest, back-corner of the room.  Festuscato called his armor and weapons to him and saw the creature laugh.  It sounded indeed like Curdwallah, he thought.  A Grendel.  A male hag.

“No weapon forged by man can hurt me.”  The creature said and ripped Bran’s broken sword from Bran’s hand and nearly took Bran’s hand with it.  The creature held out the broken sword and pointed with his right finger.  “And now, Roman, you will die.”

Festuscato did not hesitate.  Spurred in his spirit and strengthened by the huntress Artemis, his hand pulled his long knife and slashed across in one motion.  Everything appeared frozen in the room for the briefest moment before the monster’s finger fell to the floor.  The monster let out a deafening howl.  Mousden screamed and Mirowen covered her ears and closed her eyes.  A few drops of the monster’s blood fell to the floor and immediately began to burn through the stone like the strongest acid.

The monster howled again, looked at the place where its digit was missing, and turned and leapt off the balcony to the stones below, where it rushed around the corner and became lost from sight.

Festuscato recognized the blood made hole in the floor and quickly examined his blade.  It looked untouched by the acid.  The cut had been so quick and clean, the slow-moving blood never touched it, as far as he could tell.

Mirowen knelt beside Bran who held his wrist and grimaced.  Gregor came staggering into the room, holding his head.  Mousden quit screaming and started to threaten to fly back to Cornwall, not that he could.

“That was interesting,” Festuscato mused.

“Greta?”  Mirowen asked, and Festuscato nodded.  She was the healer that came nearest to his mind.  He closed his eyes and left that time while Greta came to take his place, his armor automatically adjusting to her shape and size.

“Let me see,” she told Mirowen.  She wrapped Bran’s hand in a splint so he could not bend it.  His wrist had been terribly strained, but not broken.  “You won’t be able to use that sword for a while,” she said.  “Once we get you a new one.”

“My Lady of the Ways.”  That was what Gregor called her.

“Hush, One-Eye,” she told him, and she wrapped his head, though he would only have a lump for a short time.  “Probably did you some good,” she said with a smile and vanished from there to let Festuscato come home.

Seamus and Luckless came in only moments later.  They looked around at the damage and the bandages, and Luckless spoke.

“What did we miss?” he asked.

Festuscato took a cloth and carefully picked up the drained finger.

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MONDAY

Beowulf arrives, and so does the Grendel.  Nest Time.  Until then, Happy Reading

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